On Teamwork: Walking Each Other Home

“We’re all just walking each other home.”  Ram Dass

Teaching is a serving occupation. We teachers are servant leaders. Most often we probably think of that service as service to children. After all, teachers are specialists in generativity. We pay it forward to coming generations.

Whenever I would lament to my dad that I could never repay him for something he had done for me, he would tell me, “The only way you can ever repay me is to help the next generation, your children and others.” It was something his father had told him, and his own life proved that point in all the many things he did to help me and my brother and sister get off to a good start in life. Teachers also prove that point every day. We can never repay our teachers for the lessons they taught us and the belief they had in us, but we can provide those essential supports to the students who come into our own lives.

Recently, I’ve been thinking that it isn’t just our students that we have an obligation to serve. We have an obligation to serve our colleagues as well, especially those newest to the profession. And we are a profession. Let’s never forget.

Every time a teacher shares resources with a colleague, collaborates with other teachers in planning a lesson, mentors a student teacher or a novice teacher, we are offering the same kind of service that we render to our students. Adult-to-adult sharing also pays it forward and benefits future generations.

Nightingale Elementary Team in Action.  Even the Body Language Says We're In This Together.

Nightingale Elementary Team in Action. Even the Body Language Says “We’re In This Together.”

The sharing teachers are doing these days on teacher sites, from Pinterest to teacher-written blogs, is a way we cross pollinate, so that good ideas spread from one classroom to the next and from one school to another. Good ideas were never meant to be hoarded; they deserve to be offered generously.

Recently, I visited the classroom of Kesha Brown at Gregory Elementary and saw a great idea she had for her science teams. Each team’s lab table is labeled with a category of scientist from Archaeologist to Physicist, reenforcing the notion in students’ minds that there are many kinds of scientific specialties and professions they can aspire to, depending on what interests them most. Kesha was happy to have me share that idea with other teachers.

Teacher Kesha Brown of Gregory Elementary Uses Types of Scientists for Her Table Teams

Teacher Kesha Brown of Gregory Elementary Uses Types of Scientists for Her Table Teams

Perhaps the Internet has opened us up a bit more with the notion of a collaborative commons and shareware. Perhaps, being under siege as a profession has helped us to close ranks, recognizing that we all sink or swim together in this day of high stakes testing and radical accountability. After all, it’s in our own self-interest to help our colleagues. Or perhaps the ideal of a “Professional Learning Community” has captured the imaginations of teachers. Whatever the impetus, working together has made teaching better, better for us and better for our students, who now have a model of how adults cooperate to achieve success.

And this spirit of collaboration just happens to be supported in the Next Generation Science Standards. In Appendix H Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards, for example, one of the standards for grades 3-5 claims “Most scientists and engineers work in teams.” The evidence of this can be found almost every time you read about an amazing new discovery or invention, such as the announcement I ran across today in Huffington Post that astronomers have created the first 3D map of the hidden universe. I couldn’t help but notice the paragraph that begins, “To create the map, the team …”

I also recently started reading Walter Isaacson’s new book The Innovators: How A Group Of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, a central theme of which is that “most of the innovations of the digital age were done collaboratively.” In a published excerpt from that book, Isaacson said, “The tale of their teamwork is important because we don’t often focus on how central that skill is to innovation. There are thousands of books celebrating people we biographers portray, or mythologize, as lone inventors. I’ve produced a few myself. Search the phrase ‘the man who invented’ on Amazon and you get 1,860 book results. But we have far fewer tales of collaborative creativity, which is actually more important in understanding how today’s technology revolution was fashioned.”

According to Isaacson, “their ability to work as teams made them even more creative.”

This faith in teams being more creative and better able than individual teachers to foster improved STEM education is behind Golden Apple STEM Institute’s insistence on working with teams of teachers from our partner schools and in encouraging them to work “as an iTEAM” when they return to their schools following our summer professional development. Simply put, we are stronger together. Absolutely the best professional development of my teaching life came when I worked after hours for about a year with a team of my colleagues, usually late on Saturday nights over pizza and beer, to help solve some of the problems our school was facing. I grew so much as a teacher and as a professional through those late night conversations. I also learned something back then that’s essential to team work. Bring food! Food helps fuel the good work that you want to do. It’s amazing how much mileage a team can get out of potluck snacks.

I like to think of the Ram Dass quotation at the head of this post as emblematic of what good teachers do as colleagues year after year. We walk each other home. We help each other get to the destination that is our common goal, providing students with the best education we are capable of providing. Surely, that is more certain of success than the Lone Ranger spirit that often prevailed in our schools, when teachers all but set up private practices, shunning collaboration and jealously guarding their lessons lest a colleague “copy” them. A clever cartoonist once defined high school as a place where independent subcontractors parked their cars. I remember those days, and I’m glad that, for the most part, they are gone.

So, are you part of a team? If not, how about inviting one to form? Who will your teammates be? If yes, have you worked with your team today? When will you gather again? Over what questions? What needs doing?

It will be well worth the time and effort you invest to connect as colleagues over the important work you are each doing on behalf of students. I promise.

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute (soon to be Golden Apple STEM Institute) here.




Filed under children as scientists, collaboration, Gregory Elementary, NGSS, Nightingale Elementary School, scientist

4 responses to “On Teamwork: Walking Each Other Home

  1. Penny

    Within days of publishing this blog, I ran across two posts that make the same point but cite international data demonstrating how little time U.S. teachers have for collaboration compared to other more successful countries. Here is a quote from one and the link for you to read the entire account. “Teachers need more time and a structure to engage in deep collaboration. In order to achieve the results we want, the only solution we have is for brave local school leaders to adjust instructional class loads in order to provide teachers with daily collaboration and professional development time within their contract. ” http://bit.ly/1yq4ekw


  2. Penny

    “One thing we noticed immediately in our work with schools was the intense focus on the individual educator. This is prevalent not just among school reformers but in the larger culture as well, as evidenced in popular movies ranging from “To Sir with Love” in the 1960s to “Waiting for Superman” nearly fifty years later. And every self-respecting school district has a version of the “Teacher of the Year” award, which has now risen to state and even national levels of competition. In recent years, however, we have also witnessed a darker side to accountability, as districts around the country publicly shame teachers who do not fare well on the accountability scorecards.” The authors of this piece emphasize the importance of teachers developing social capital … i.e., working collaboratively with other teachers. The students of those teachers outperform students of teachers who simply rely on their own personal capital (preparation, knowledge based, etc.). http://shankerblog.org/?p=10682http://shankerblog.org/?p=10682


  3. K.Brown

    Thank you Penny for stopping by and the ‘shout out’. I was fortunate enough to get this idea from another super Science teacher. The table labels always spark conversation about “what does a chemist do?” Its an excellent way have students explore different branches of Science.


    • Penny

      That’s was good teachers do … steal ideas, and everything’s fair game. After all, it’s about the students. And thankfully, there are now lots of cool sharing sites for us to use, like Pinterest.


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